The Deh Cho Trail in the Canadian Rockies

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Written by Madison Valois posted on Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

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The roads and driving trips seem endless in the Canadian Rockies.

The roads and driving trips seem endless in the Canadian Rockies.

This is going to be a longer trip than previous ones we’ve discussed as the trail will take you through Northern Alberta, the Northwest Territories and Northern British Columbia.  “Deh Cho” translates from the Aboriginal language to “big river,” which is the name for the Mackenzie River region of the Canadian Rockies.  On this great travel adventure you will follow the rivers that were navigated by the first inhabitants of the north, a journey that has the potential of continuing on to Yellowknife and the Alaska Highway.

The Deh Cho trail begins in Grimshaw, approximately 440 km northwest of Edmonton and 370 km northwest of Jasper along Highway 40.  Take a short trip out of Grimshaw to Peace River, a lovely town just at the junction of the Smoky, Heart and Peace Rivers.  Here you’ll see the grave of “12-foot Davis,” a gold rush entrepreneur who was the stuff of legends.  Take a walk over to the Peace River Centennial Museum as well as Shaftesbury, an Anglican settlement that was built in 1887.

Back on Highway 35, drive along the Peace River where you will be refreshed by beautiful forests of jack pine and spruce trees, weaving through towns like Dixonville, North Star, Manning (stop to see the Battle River Pioneer Museum) and High Level, where you can enjoy the Mackenzie Crossroads Museum and Visitor’s Center.  Then go east on Highway 58 over to Fort Vermillion, one of the oldest settlements in Alberta.  Dating back to the late 1700s, the town boasts many antique buildings as well as an authentic General Store.

Continue on Highway 58 to High Level, where the Caribou Mountains loom to the northeast and the Cameron Hills and Bistcho Lake sit to the northwest.  Taking the highway from here to the Alberta-Northwest Territory border, you will arrive in Meander as you meander around a river of the same name and then on to Indian Cabins.  This is the most northern community in Alberta.  A great attraction is the Native American cemetery complete with spirit houses that cover each grave.  Stop at the 60th Parallel Visitor’s Center where first-time visitors receive a “North of 60” certificate.

Once you enter the Northwest Territories, Highway 35 turns into NWT Highway 1, which is also called the Waterfalls Route.  Pick up some information at the Visitor’s Center on the wonderful side trips you can take to Great Slave Lake, Buffalo National Park (the second largest national park in the world) or Fort Smith.

Weather patterns change quickly in the mountains, but all weather is stunning in the Canadian Rockies.

Weather patterns change quickly in the mountains, but all weather is stunning in the Canadian Rockies.

Now head west on Mackenzie Highway 1.  You will go through McNallie Creek as you head towards Fort Simpson.  Take your time as there are many side trips on the way:  Yellowknife, Kakisa, Trout Lake, and the magnificent Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park.  Once you’ve arrived at Fort Simpson, arrange to spend some time hiking and exploring the Nahanni National Park.

The Deh Cho then heads south towards British Columbia.  You will drive through Fort Liard, Fort Nelson, Prophet River and Fort St. John, historic areas that eventually take you to Dawson Creek on Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway.  Make sure you take a picture at the well-known Mile 0 Signpost as proof that you were really there.  Spend some time at the Visitors Centre and Museum, as well as the Walter Wright Pioneer Village.

One hour’s drive from Dawson is the Alberta-British Columbia border and then another 90 kms till you reach Grande Prairie, a beautiful town located in a gentle grassland valley.  Spend a few days here enjoying Muskoseepi Park, the Prairie Art Gallery and the Pioneer Museum.  This is a great place to stock up on amenities as well as to find gifts for the folks at home.

Now you can decide to head south on Highway 40 going through the towns of Grande Cache, Hilton and Jasper, right into the heart of the Canadian Rockies, or you can head north and complete your vacation travels in Grimshaw, Mile 0 of the Deh Cho Trail.

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